AUSTIN, Texas – Road woe has turned to road “mo” for Oklahoma State.
For the first time in three-plus years, the No. 22-ranked Cowboys own road momentum in the Big 12 Conference after rolling past Texas, 72-59, Saturday in Austin.
Of course, it didn't hurt that Marcus Smart carried his own familiar momentum into the Erwin Center.
Smart, as well as Cowboys teammate Phil Forte, had won back-to-back Texas state titles in the building for Flower Mound Marcus High School.
And Smart looked right at home again against the Longhorns, scoring a game-high 23 points.
“I had a great feel for this gym,” Smart said. “It felt great coming back.”
Looked great, too, for the Cowboys, who ran their overall winning streak to five games and won a second straight on the road, following their breakthrough at Kansas a week earlier.
While the two-game road streak may be modest in scope, it's major when considering the Cowboys had managed but one Big 12 road win in three years before their KU conquest — a span of 22 games.
Also major: the Cowboys stand 17-5 overall and 7-3 in the Big 12, with conference championship hopes renewed, especially with the league favorite Jayhawks going down for a third straight game Saturday.
“We've got to keep climbing the ladder in this league,” said Cowboys captain Markel Brown. “Right now, it's wide open. We're still fighting to get to the very top of the list. Getting road wins is very important in this conference. Home games, those are a given, supposedly.
“But the road wins are the big games in this conference.”
This road win even featured something unheard of: a stress-free finish.
OSU bloated its lead to as big as 19, 59-40, and was able to get quality minutes for several reserves.
Brown added 17 points for the Cowboys, who also got 14 from Le'Bryan Nash. OSU outrebounded Texas 46-34, forced 15 turnovers and held the Longhorns to 1-of-18 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
At all times, however, Smart was in focus.
The Cowboys took control in the first half, behind Smart. And they took off in the second half, again behind Smart.
“Coach (Travis Ford) told me, ‘Just do what we do and run our plays,'” Smart said. “The lane just opened up and I just took what the defense gave me, which was open shots. I wasn't really trying to force some of the things, like I did in the first half.
“Coming into the second half, I just had to slow down and take what the defense gave me.”
Smart finished 6-of-12 from the field with three 3-pointers, 8-of-10 from the line and totaled seven rebounds, five steals and three assists. He had eight points to key a 22-8 surge in the first half and all six as the Cowboys pushed their lead to a double-digit margin they wouldn't relinquish in the second half.
Just like old times in Austin?
Smart and Forte played five games as prep stars in the Erwin Center, losing in the semifinals as sophomores, before winning four straight in the title runs their junior and senior seasons.
“Me and Phil, that's all we could think about, making that walk down the tunnel to the locker room,” Smart said. “It was very emotional for us.”
And very beneficial for the Cowboys.